ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (10/22)

Album : London Calling by The Clash
Review : Rolling Stone, 3 April 1980
Author : Tom Carson

By now, our expectations of the Clash might seem to have become inflated beyond any possibility of fulfillment. It’s not simply that they’re the greatest rock & roll band in the world — indeed, after years of watching too many superstars compromise, blow chances and sell out, being the greatest is just about synonymous with being the music’s last hope. While the group itself resists such labels, they do tell you exactly how high the stakes are, and how urgent the need. The Clash got their start on the crest of what looked like a revolution, only to see the punk movement either smash up on its own violent momentum or be absorbed into the same corporate-rock machinery it had meant to destroy. Now, almost against their will, they’re the only ones left.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope, the band’s last recording, railed against the notion that being rock & roll heroes meant martyrdom. Yet the album also presented itself so flamboyantly as a last stand that it created a near-insoluble problem: after you’ve already brought the apocalypse crashing down on your head, how can you possibly go on? On the Clash’s new LP, London Calling, there’s a composition called “Death or Glory” that seems to disavow the struggle completely. Over a harsh and stormy guitar riff, lead singer Joe Strummer offers a grim litany of failure. Then his cohort, Mick Jones, steps forward to drive what appears to be the final nail into the coffin. “Death or glory,” he bitterly announces, “become just another story.”

But “Death or Glory” — in many ways, the pivotal song on London Calling — reverses itself midway. After Jones’ last, anguished cry drops off into silence, the music seems to scatter from the echo of his words. Strummer reenters, quiet and undramatic, talking almost to himself at first and not much caring if anyone else is listening. “We’re gonna march a long way,” he whispers. “Gonna fight — a long time.” The guitars, distant as bugles on some faraway plain, begin to rally. The drums collect into a beat, and Strummer slowly picks up strength and authority as he sings:

We’ve gotta travel — over mountains
We’ve gotta travel — over seas
We’re gonna fight — you, brother
We’re gonna fight — till you lose
We’re gonna raise —
TROUBLE!

The band races back to the firing line, and when the singers go surging into the final chorus of “Death or glory…just another story,” you know what they’re really saying: like hell it is!

Merry and tough, passionate and large-spirited, London Calling celebrates the romance of rock & roll rebellion in grand, epic terms. It doesn’t merely reaffirm the Clash’s own commitment to rock-as-revolution. Instead, the record ranges across the whole of rock & roll’s past for its sound, and digs deeply into rock legend, history, politics and myth for its images and themes. Everything has been brought together into a single, vast, stirring story — one that, as the Clash tell it, seems not only theirs but ours. For all its first-take scrappiness and guerrilla production, this two-LP set — which, at the group’s insistence, sells for not much more than the price of one — is music that means to endure. It’s so rich and far-reaching that it leaves you not just exhilarated but exalted and triumphantly alive.

From the start, however, you know how tough a fight it’s going to be. “London Calling” opens the album on an ominous note. When Strummer comes in on the downbeat, he sounds weary, used up, desperate: “The Ice Age is coming/The sun is zooming in/Meltdown expected/The wheat is growing thin.’

The rest of the record never turns its back on that vision of dread. Rather, it pulls you through the horror and out the other side. The Clash’s brand of heroism may be supremely romantic, even naive, but their utter refusal to sentimentalize their own myth — and their determination to live up to an actual code of honor in the real world, without ever minimizing the odds — makes such romanticism seem not only brave but absolutely necessary. London Calling sounds like a series of insistent messages sent to the scattered armies of the night, proffering warnings and comfort, good cheer and exhortations to keep moving. If we begin amid the desolation of the title track, we end, four sides later, with Mick Jones spitting out heroic defiance in “I’m Not Down” and finding a majestic metaphor at the pit of his depression that lifts him — and us — right off the ground. “Like skyscrapers rising up,” Jones screams. “Floor by floor — I’m not giving up.” Then Joe Strummer invites the audience, with a wink and a grin, to “smash up your seats and rock to this brand new beat” in the merry-go-round invocation of “Revolution Rock.”

Against all the brutality, injustice and large and small betrayals delineated in song after song here — the assembly-line Fascists in “Clampdown,” the advertising executives of “Koka Kola,” the drug dealer who turns out to be the singer’s one friend in the jittery, hypnotic “Hateful” — the Clash can only offer their sense of historic purpose and the faith, innocence, humor and camaraderie embodied in the band itself. This shines through everywhere, balancing out the terrors that the LP faces again and again. It can take forms as simple as letting bassist Paul Simonon sing his own “The Guns of Brixton,” or as relatively subtle as the way Strummer modestly moves in to support Jones’ fragile lead vocal on the forlorn “Lost in the Supermarket.” It can be as intimate and hilarious as the moment when Joe Strummer deflates any hint of portentousness in the sexual-equality polemics of “Lover’s Rock” by squawking “I’m so nervous!” to close the tune. In “Four Horsemen,” which sounds like the movie soundtrack to a rock & roll version of The Seven Samurai, the Clash’s martial pride turns openly exultant. The guitars and drums start at a thundering gallop, and when Strummer sings, “Four horsemen …,” the other members of the group charge into line to shout joyously: “…and it’s gonna be us!”

London Calling is spacious and extravagant. It’s as packed with characters and incidents as a great novel, and the band’s new stylistic expansions — brass, organ, occasional piano, blues grind, pop airiness and the reggae-dub influence that percolates subversively through nearly every number — add density and richness to the sound. The riotous rockabilly-meets-the-Ventures quality of “Brand New Cadillac” (“Jesus Christ!” Strummer yells to his ex-girlfriend, having so much fun he almost forgets to be angry, “Whereja get that Cadillac?”) slips without pause into the strung-out shuffle of “Jimmy Jazz,” a Nelson Algren-like street scene that limps along as slowly as its hero, just one step ahead of the cops. If “Rudie Can’t Fail” (the “She’s Leaving Home” of our generation) celebrates an initiation into bohemian lowlife with affection and panache, “The Card Cheat” picks up on what might be the same character twenty years later, shot down in a last grab for “more time away from the darkest door.” An awesome orchestral backing track gives this lower-depths anecdote a somber weight far beyond its scope. At the end of “. — “from the Hundred Year War to the Crimea” — that turns ephemeral pathos into permanent tragedy.

Other tracks tackle history head-on, and claim it as the Clash’s own. “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” updates the story of Stagger Lee in bumptious reggae terms, forging links between rock & roll legend and the group’s own politicized roots-rock rebel. “The Right Profile,” which is about Montgomery Clift, accomplishes a different kind of transformation. Over braying and sarcastic horns, Joe Strummer gags, mugs, mocks and snickers his way through a comic-horrible account of the actor’s collapse on booze and pills, only to close with a grudging admiration that becomes unexpectedly and astonishingly moving. It’s as if the singer is saying, no matter how ugly and pathetic Clift’s life was, he was still — in spite of everything — one of us.

“Spanish Bombs” is probably London Calling‘s best and most ambitious song. A soaring, chiming intro pulls you in, and before you can get your bearings, Strummer’s already halfway into his tale. Lost and lonely in his “disco casino,” he’s unable to tell whether the gunfire he hears is out on the streets or inside his head. Bits of Spanish doggerel, fragments of combat scenes, jangling flamenco guitars and the lilting vocals of a children’s tune mesh in a swirling kaleidoscope of courage and disillusionment, old wars and new corruption. The evocation of the Spanish Civil War is sumptuously romantic: “With trenches full of poets, the ragged army, fixin’ bayonets to fight the other line.” Strummer sings, as Jones throws in some lovely, softly stinging notes behind him. Here as elsewhere, the heroic past isn’t simply resurrected for nostalgia’s sake. Instead, the Clash state that the lessons of the past must be earned before we can apply them to the present.

London Calling certainly lives up to that challenge. With its grainy cover photo, its immediate, on-the-run sound, and songs that bristle with names and phrases from today’s headlines, it’s as topical as a broadside. But the album also claims to be no more than the latest battlefield in a war of rock & roll, culture and politics that’ll undoubtedly go on forever. “Revolution Rock,” the LP’s formal coda, celebrates the joys of this struggle as an eternal carnival. A spiraling organ weaves circles around Joe Strummer’s voice, while the horn section totters, sways and recovers like a drunken mariachi band. “This must be the way out,” Strummer calls over his shoulder, so full of glee at his own good luck that he can hardly believe it.” El Clash Combo,” he drawls like a proud father, coasting now, sure he’s made it home. “Weddings, parties, anything… And bongo jazz a specialty.”

But it’s Mick Jones who has the last word. “Train in Vain” arrives like an orphan in the wake of “Revolution Rock.” It’s not even listed on the label, and it sounds faint, almost overheard. Longing, tenderness and regret mingle in Jones’ voice as he tries to get across to his girl that losing her meant losing everything, yet he’s going to manage somehow. Though his sorrow is complete, his pride is that he can sing about it. A wistful, simple number about love and loss and perseverance, “Tram in Vain” seems like an odd ending to the anthemic tumult of London Calling. But it’s absolutely appropriate, because if this record has told us anything, it’s that a love affair and a revolution — small battles as well as large ones — are not that different. They’re all part of the same long, bloody march.

mp3 : The Clash – London Calling
mp3 : The Clash – Death or Glory
mp3 : The Clash – Spanish Bombs
mp3 : The Clash – Train In Vain

JC adds :  And here was me thinking that the NME was the sole outlet for overly-long and overly-descriptive album reviews back in the day.  There is no doubt that Tom Carson really liked London Calling, but with the benefit of hindsight over the past 40 years (certainly since its UK release), you can look back and argue that what he homed in on for particular attention was either inconsequential or unmerited.

Death or Glory is an important song, but is it worthy of taking up so much of the review?  Spanish Bombs is far from the album’s best or most ambitious song. And there’s more then a few remarks on various songs that feel straight out of Psued’s Corner. Having said all that, his view that Train In Vain seems an odd ending to the album is one that I’ve long shared, but as we’ve since learned from the story behind the album, this was really just the most  practical way of getting a new song out there to fans than any considered attempt to find an ending that was to provide an alternative to some of the anthemic stuff – indeed, there’s a body of thought that, outside of the title track, Train In Vain, has become the most anthemic song on the album.

I really did enjoy reading this particular review, for nothing else that it has a different tone and feel to those which came later when the album was remixed/re-released/re-packaged for certain anniversaries.  It also felt like the perfect way to close out the blog for 2019.

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (9/22)

Album : Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub
Review : Q, December 1991
Author : Paul Davies

Creation boss Alan McGee‘s latest rapscallion ruse to lighten the pockets of the record-buying public is a bunch of hirsute Glaswegians with a reputation for storming live shows and a penchant for genteel melodies and feedback-strafed electric guitars.

The self-styled Teenage Fannies have mockingly sidestepped the inevitable accusations of plundering rock’s dog-eared back pages with the nod’s as good as a wink LP title, and whilst there is little doubt that TFC have quaffed long and heartily from the fulsome musical goblets of Lennon and McCartney, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn and sundry American guitar delinquents, they are close to arriving at a sound that is recognisably all their own.

Introduced by an awesome barrage of feedback and the deadpan couplet “She wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo”, the opening song, The Concept, is a thrilling induction into TFC’s melodious grunge guitar free-for-all. Operating in a parallel universe to the blips, bleeps and chemically assisted nirvana of the still raving indie dance scene, TFC have remodelled the whiplash guitar of Jesus And Mary Chain, grafted on their own softly shimmering vocal harmonies and replaced a black-hearted cynicism with a life-affirming brio and some sorely needed humour.

Cocking a snook at those who dissect slivers of plastic in search of coded entreaties to teenage devil worship, Satan is a murderous 80-second wind-up of orchestrated chaos and guitar savagery, with enough garbled vocals to keep the moral majority on overtime until Christmas. Cold compresses are applied to fevered brows on songs like December, Guiding Star and Sidewinder, as TFC slip into an altogether mellower groove with Norman Blake‘s understated lightweight vocals wafting along on clouds of multi-tracked harmonies and eardrum-fondling melodies.

Metal Baby drags a turbo-charged take on glam rock kicking and screaming into the 1990s, Alcoholiday is a loping singalong shuffle and What You Do To Me descends upon a classically Beatlesque melody with the untrammelled gusto of a runaway train on a collision course with an ammunition dump. The obligatory instrumental Is This Music? rounds things off with a celebratory flourish – Motown drumbeats, Rolf Harris-style wibble wobble bass lines and canoodling cross-cutting lead guitars soaring off on the back of a head-spinningly timeless melodic hook.

The sound of pop eating itself it may very well be, but with an aftertaste as good as this, it would be churlish to quibble about the choice of ingredients.

mp3 : Teenage Fanclub – The Concept
mp3 : Teenage Fanclub – I Don’t Know
mp3 : Teenage Fanclub – Guiding Star

JC adds :  A slightly shorter review than most in this series, it reflects the fact that Teenage Fanclub were something of an unknown quantity when Bandwagoneque hit the shops  – I distinctly remember that Tower Records in Glasgow offered a return with no qualms or questions if you bought the CD and didn’t like what you were hearing.  It’s a very positive and accurate review, although it is interesting to note that while the band had three main vocalists, Norman Blake was the only one singled out for mention; with hindsight (again!!) the failure to highlight Gerry Love is a serious oversight, especially given that he was the composer of the three songs mentioned in the lead-in to the praise given to Norman.

 

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (8/22)

Album : Nixon by Lambchop
Review : NME, 1 March 2000
Author : Gavin Martin

On this, their fifth and greatest album, Kurt Wagner‘s ever-expanding 17-piece country soul outfit aren’t fucking around. Absorbing and magnifying the territory explored on its immediate predecessors, ‘What Another Man Spills’ and ‘Thriller‘, ‘Nixon’ is by any criteria an astonishing work.

Awash with delirious dream-bound strings, sanctifying gospel choirs, beautiful brass flourishes, pedal steels, Rhodes organ and, of course, open-end wrenches, it’s been called an alt-country ‘Pet Sounds’, Wagner (a Nashville-based floor-layer by day, genius by night) steering his inspired collective into areas of boundless musical wonder while keeping a sure and tender grasp on the emotional strings that tie these songs together.

Given the sheer sonorous delight of the Lambchop sound, the ‘Pet Sounds’ comparison is understandable if ultimately misleading. Once the magical opener ‘The Old Gold Shoe‘ – strewn with images of loss and abundance – takes flight you are borne aloft and thereafter free to explore a cosmic American ideal that would do Brian Wilson or Gram Parsons, or anyone proud. But as a singer and songwriter, Wagner operates at a remove from both his contemporaries and predecessors, his gentle imprecations, salty asides and off-kilter musings delivered in a raw falsetto that often sounds like a ravaged, confessional and mischievous ghost.

What Wagner has been working towards in a series of records that began with the tentative ‘I Hope You’re Sitting Down’ in 1994, is a music that illuminates the odd victories and tragedies of commonplace experience. Though it’s gilded with gentle rhapsodies, lush embellishments and thrilling expositions, ‘Nixon’ achieves its aims without ever resorting to overkill. Even in ‘Up With People’ – a joyous ode to friendship, procreation and dreams – the ‘Chop delight in caressing odd contrasts and eking out awkward emotional crevices.

Wagner’s mastery of the twisted love lyric comes to some sort of peak on ‘The Distance From Her To There’, summoning up a clumsy seduction with the line, “It’s not a theatre kiss/More like a railway piss”. So what, you may ask, has this all got to do with the man who was possibly the most mendacious US president of the last century? Ostensibly not much, the album was recorded before the cover image and the title were decided upon. Even so, the lyrics come complete with a Nixon reading list, the implication is that as someone who came of age in Tricky Dick’s era, Wagner can’t help but work in the dark shadow left by his legacy.

Mapping out a musical Utopia where Glen Campbell‘s golden era meets primetime Philadelphia soul and the dark gossamer funk of the late Curtis Mayfield is a constant presence, Wagner’s method even on the glowering looming despair of the magnificent ‘The Petrified Florist’ is a life-affirming riposte to the fear, division and paranoia Nixon fostered.

Fate and history can serve judgment on Richard Milhouse’s legacy – right now ‘Nixon’ is a swooning wonder, covered in glory. 9/10

mp3 : Lambchop – The Old Gold Shoe
mp3 : Lambchop – Up With People
mp3 : Lambchop – The Petrified Florist

JC adds :  Lambchop had passed me by until the release of Nixon.  Gavin Martin wasn’t the only one who sang its praises and I bought it, partly on the back of all the positive words, and partly as the man who owned the indie record store in Glasgow told me it was a great listen.  And it is….to the extent that everything that came before (as I went out and purchased the back catalogue) wasn’t quite as good, and everything that has come since hasn’t quite matched Nixon’s consistent brilliance.

 

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (7/22)

Album : Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters by The Twilight Sad
Review : Pitchfork, 12 April 2007
Author : Mark Richardson

The first time you hear the Twilight Sad, a four-piece band from just outside Glasgow, they already sound familiar. It’s like they’ve been around a while, even though their debut EP only came out last September. You might think of Arab Strap‘s Aidan Moffat when hearing singer James Graham because he’s got a feel for concrete imagery and does nothing to hide his thick Scottish accent. Shoegaze comes to mind because guitarist Andy MacFarlane favors billowy curtains of white noise that dominate the sound field. And, as Pitchfork writer Marc Hogan has already pointed out, the Twilight Sad sometimes bring to mind U2, with their shared fondness for huge choruses that occasionally verge on histrionic.

All that said, the Twilight Sad are pushing these familiar elements in some unexpected and exciting directions. Graham may sound a bit like Moffett but he doesn’t sing about getting wrecked in the pub while trying to forget. His focus is primarily the concerns of adolescence, and he even narrows it down to a specific age. In the first line of the key track “That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy”, Graham sings “…14, and you know…” and you want to stop him right there. (Fourteen. Yes, we know how awful it can be.) But what follows is a portrait of a miserable kid that’s both touching and cathartic. Graham sounds angry, with sarcastic barbs about a “loving mother” and a “lovely home,” but “That Summer…” is anything but a tantrum. He’s got about four different levels to his voice in the song, from a calm articulation to a throat-shredding wail, but he’s never so clouded by rage that he forgets the details.

And the details are what make the track, and the album, so compelling. The song titles suggest a writer trying to find the profound in the mundane, and in that way they remind me a bit of the Clientele, even though the tone couldn’t be more different. There’s lots of weather, elements like earth and fire. There are train rides and long walks to nowhere that offer plenty of time to think. “Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard” reads one, and the structure, a canon of Graham’s multi-tracked voice swirling around a single piano chord that sounds like the opening of the Velvet Underground‘s “I’m Waiting for My Man”, reflects the sadness streaked with hope. In “Walking for Two Hours”, Graham sings about being “so far from home” as bass drum, crash cymbal, and guitar strums merge into a tightly coiled implosion that drives the loneliness home.

The shifts in volume, though not exactly surprising, are crucial. Peter Katis and the band produced, and the sonic arc they construct tracks the lyrics beautifully. There’s a “big moment” on most songs where the music gets ridiculously loud and the guitar distortion crowds almost everything out. There is, of course, no trick in this sort of surge; a couple clicks on a floor pedal is all it takes. But the Twilight Sad know how to use dynamic range to advance the plot.

With songs so direct and the band’s hearts on their sleeves, the music’s debt to shoegaze only goes so far. Instead of tying the overdriven fuzz to a blissed-out sense of surrender to noise, the Twilight Sad uses the guitar as another kind of yell. The instrumental title track closing the record touches on My Bloody Valentine‘s “glide” guitar drone, but the almost martial drumming, with the snare seemingly vibrated by the guitar amp, keeps the track intimate and grounded. And when the band gets ethereal, it’s in a loose, folky way, as with the braid of ringing guitar sounding during the coda of “Talking With Fireworks/ Here, It Never Snowed.” Regular use of accordion, also played by MacFarlane, imparts an appropriately street-level earthiness to the sound.

As exhilarating as Fourteen Autumns is at its most anthemic, the vividness of the lyrical themes ultimately carries the record over. If one were to consider only the widescreen sound while scanning the titles, you might think the Twilight Sad were overwrought and sappy, another example of a band overly concerned with childhood, too young to know how good they really had it. But that’s not the way these songs come across at all. The Twilight Sad approach the darker side of growing up with consideration and dignity, and manage to maintain a proper perspective. “As my bones grew, they did hurt/ They hurt really bad,” an angst-filled songwriter from another generation once sang; the Twilight Sad do a tremendous job of remembering that ache.

mp3 : The Twilight Sad – That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy
mp3 : The Twilight Sad – Last Year’s Rain Didn’t Fall Quite So Hard
mp3 : The Twilight Sad – Talking With Fireworks/Here, It Never Snowed

JC adds :  It’s Saturday, and by tradition, the blog looks at something Scottish.  I know I am consistently shoving The Twilight Sad down your collective throats, but I’ll never apologise for that.  I was simply thrilled to find an American review which was so positive and understanding (apart from the U2 comparisons which i Just don’t get) that I was tempted to then go through all the successive albums and pluck out reviews from over the pond.  But I haven’t….not yet, anyway!

There will be another superb Scottish album review from yesteryears in this spot next Saturday, but there will be six others before then.

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (6/22)

Album : Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not by Arctic Monkeys
Review : NME, 12 January 2006
Author : Tim Jonze

It’s hardly surprising that the first words to tumble out of Alex Turner’s mouth on this record are “Anticipation has a habit to set you up/For disappointment”. I mean, can you imagine how it feels to be in Arctic Monkeys right now? Great, obviously, seeing as they’ve filled the gutter-rock gap left behind by the imploding Libertines, gatecrashed the proper pop charts with their debut single and been declared Our Generation’s Most Important Band™. But you’ve kinda got to feel for them. They’ve only released one proper single and the world awaits excitedly for the greatest album since God plugged in his Fender and started jamming with Joe Strummer. What’s more, these boys have got an instant handicap. Loads of us have already heard half these tracks from the internet demos which helped build their fanbase. The tidier production here fails to add any more life to those snarling versions (although any more life and they’d have escaped from the case and gone joyriding around Shire Green)

But that’s enough doom-mongering. After a while the hype and expectation is going to fade away and, when it does, all you can really judge Arctic Monkeys on is their haircuts. Sorry, I meant their music. And even if you’ve been fortunate enough to live with these tracks over the last year or so, they still sound more vital, more likely to make you form your own band than anything else out there.

Essentially this is a stripped-down, punk rock record with every touchstone of Great British Music covered: The Britishness of The Kinks, the melodic nous of The Beatles, the sneer of Sex Pistols, the wit of The Smiths, the groove of The Stone Roses, the anthems of Oasis, the clatter of The Libertines

Of course, the Monkeys actually spent their teens listening to hip-hop. But where that really shows is in the lyrics and the frenetic pace at which Alex hurls them out of his gob. He’s a master of observation. Unlike, say, Morrissey or Jarvis, he doesn’t use his eye-spying skills to strike a blow for the freaks and misfits of this world. And that’s exactly why they work so well. They’re songs for everyone – from the shy romantic whose hopeless with the opposite sex, to the guy who’d still take you home, even though he “can’t see through your fake tan” (‘Still Take You Home’).

What Turner does have in common with Mozza and Jarvis is that he’s a funny little fucker. And his humour is so easy to identify with, that mere observation serves him more than adequately. Forget the flowery fantasies conjured up by Dickensian Doherty – these are tales of the scum-ridden streets as they are in 2006, not 1906.

So you get the tongue-tied tart in ‘Dancing Shoes’, the bored band-watcher in ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’ and the guy whose girl’s got the hump in ‘Mardy Bum’ – all sung with a voice so authentic it could land the lead role in the Hovis ads. This record’s heart lies in Yorkshire, and it’s usually down the local Ritzy disco, getting the cold shoulder off the bird it fancies and ending up in a scrap by the taxi rank outside. It couldn’t be any more Saturday night unless it woke up, bleary-eyed, next to a 16-stone munter with herpes.

The knock-out punch is saved for the finale, though. And when it comes, it smacks you three times. Just to make sure, like. ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is the sound of the streets long after the Ritzy has kicked out for the night, ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ is a three-minute blast that dares to take on that most grotesque of creatures (nightclub bouncers, not Kerry Katona). The clincher, though, is ‘A Certain Romance’. As perfect a pop song as you could ever hope to hear, it rivals even The Streets in its portrayal of small-town England, a place where “there’s only music so that there’s new ringtones”. Alex’s message is compact yet delivered with dazzling poetic flair: “All of that’s what the point is not/The point’s that there ain’t no romance around here”.

By the time it finishes, you don’t feel sorry for Arctic Monkeys any more. They might have been swamped in more hype than Shayne Ward ballroom-dancing across the set of I’m A Celebrity… but all of that’s what the point is not. The point’s that there ain’t no disappointment around here.

mp3 : Arctic Monkeys – The View From The Afternoon
mp3 : Arctic Monkeys – Still Take You Home
mp3 : Arctic Monkeys – When The Sun Goes Down
mp3 : Arctic Monkeys – A Certain Romance

JC adds :  It’s an astoundingly brilliant and confident debut, and an incredibly mature record from a bunch of lads who weren’t yet out of their teens.   The scariest thing for me is that the album is now 14 years old…..and I still think of the band as being new kids on the block.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (5/22)

Album : Punch The Clock by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Review : Rolling Stone, 1 September 1983
Author : Christopher Connelly

Well, nobody’s gonna call this album a masterpiece. On Punch the Clock, Costello retreats from the no-guts, no-glory stance that inspired Imperial Bedroom and chooses instead to tinker with the basic machinery. Toward that end, producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley have added two female backup singers and a peppy horn section to the still-solid Attractions sound. But most of Punch the Clock is standard Elvis fare: terrific tunes, take-it-or-leave-it singing and jaw-breaking wordplay that baffles as much as it enlightens. It’s still a spirited combination, but only in those moments when Costello transcends his glibness does this record become something really special.

With its extra aural punch, the album sounds like a winner right off. “Let Them All Talk” is a mile-a-minute raveup that supports Costello’s scratchy crooning without snuffing it. “Listening to the sad song that the radio plays/Have we come this fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliche,” he worries, but with that brass pumping away, who cares? Langer and Winstanley add some fine touches: the track finishes with a nifty falsetto, filigree (Elvis?) and some high-octave tinkling from keyboardist Steve Nieve.

But before long, Costello fans will be on territory that looks a little too familiar. “Didn’t they teach you anything except how to be cruel/In that charm school,” asks Elvis in “Charm School,” and no matter how lusciously the melody line floats, it’s hard not to think that you’ve been here before. The old themes are back: fighting, beauty and the greed of nations. Costello’s aggressive, suspicious sensibility is a given by now, but it’s too often couched in opaque, uninteresting scenarios (the otherwise appealing “King of Thieves”) or tossed out in facile phrasemaking. In “T.K.O. (Boxing Day),” he sings: “They put the numb into number they put the cut into cutie/They put the slum into slumber and the boot into beauty.” Clever? You bet, but naggingly so, like a smartass kid tugging on your shirttail.

Costello can do better — and he does. The mild paranoia of “The Invisible Man” is at least a little gleeful, and it’s worth it just to hear Elvis the Anglo pronounce “Harry Houdini.” “The World and His Wife” shows his smarm-minded eye at work: “The little girl you dangled on your knee without mishap/Stirs something in your memory/And something in your lap.” And in “The Element within Her,” Elvis even utilizes a Mersey-style la-la-la chorus: “He was a playboy/Could charm the birds right out of the trees/Now he says, ‘What do I do with these?’”

Costello can be hard to figure — unlike most singer/songwriters, he writes compositions that don’t often correlate to his own state of mind. But the war in the Falklands — practically prophesied in his earlier work — has had a clear effect on him, and the two songs it inspired are poignant, rantless and straight to the heart. The plangent “Shipbuilding,” a surprise hit for Robert Wyatt in England, carefully delineates a town where war is about to cure the unemployment problem. “Within weeks they’ll be reopening the shipyards/And notifying the next of kin/Once again,” Elvis sings with unusual care, high in his register. A stirring trumpet solo by the legendary Chet Baker beautifully enhances the track’s wistful lament. “It’s all we’re skilled in/We will be shipbuilding.” It’s a beautifully simple, almost terse, rumination, clear as water.

Perhaps more powerful than “Shipbuilding” is “Pills and Soap,” a song that Elvis originally released in England under the moniker “The Impostor.” Backed by the endlessly inventive Nieve and a click track with all the finger-snapping ominousness of an alley confrontation, Costello zeros in: “They talked to the sister, the father and the mother/With a microphone in one hand and a chequebook in the other/And the camera noses in to the tears on her face/The tears on her face/The tears on her face.” Sung with on-the-one rhythmic sense by Costello, the repetition of that one phrase packs a bigger emotional oomph than many of his tangled, tortured lyrics. In a single image, Costello captures both the crassness of the press — and, more significantly, the agony of a sorrow-filled parent. The impact is stunning.

Punch the Clock won’t alter anyone’s opinion of Elvis Costello, because it doesn’t represent much of a change for him. He remains the most consistently interesting songwriter in rock & roll, and there is evidence that a new, more emotionally generous sensibility may soon be present in his work. “I know I’ve got my faults, and among them I can’t control my tongue,” he offers in “Mouth Almighty,” and it’s true on this LP. As a holding pattern with a few flourishes here and there, Punch the Clock is a satisfying, if unstartling, opus.

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Let Them All Talk
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – T.K.O. (Boxing Day)
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – The Invisible Man
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Shipbuilding

JC adds :  26 December is known as Boxing Day here in the UK, which is why this review appears today.  It’s a decent enough summary of a decent enough album, one which isn’t the best of Elvis C, but has stood the test of time, thanks in part to the skill of the uber-producers.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (4/22)

Album : Ultimate Kylie by Kylie Minogue
Review : Pop Matters, 21 March 2005
Author : Hunter Felt

In the glorious dawning days of Napster, one of the first songs I ever illegally downloaded was “I Should Be So Lucky” by Kylie Minogue. Mind you, this was before “Can’t Get You out of My Head” summoned both the teenyboppers and the hipsters to the dance floor, this was the period when Kylie Minogue was a one-hit wonder, a disposable soap opera actress turned dance-pop monger. “I Should Be So Lucky”, an almost frightfully perky tale of Romantic frustration, contains practically every ’80s dance music cliché: from the numerous orchestra hits to the uncomfortably thin sounding drum machine. Despite these egregious sins, courtesy of in-retrospect-regrettable-hits making machine Stock, Aitken, & Waterman, something about Kylie’s innocent yet forceful vocals and the sheer catchiness of the song itself rose above its long dated components, and I was hooked. So the song became a beloved secret, and I never bothered to try to tune my friends in on “I Should Be So Lucky”, or, crazier yet, proclaim that this “has-been” would be a critical and commercial darling in a few years time.

Ultimate Kylie is a two-disc summary evenly split between two distinct periods in Kylie’s career. The first part features Kylie Minogue acting as Stock, Aitken, & Waterman’s puppet, and features her struggling in finding great pop songs buried in dated production techniques, and shining despite being paired up with unsuitable cover material (“Tears on My Pillow”) or justifiably forgotten performers (such as her former Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan on “Especially for You”). The second disc encapsulates her true solo career, showing her flirt with practically every style of dance music of the last two decades without ever sounding out of place. Kylie, who has reached one-name only status in Europe, is not a great singer, she wouldn’t even give Madonna a run for the money, but she has a trait that allows her to adapt to any possible musical shift that is remarkable for any performer, let alone one for a soap opera actress who never expected to be in the music industry.

The first disc, although clearly the lesser half of the album artistically, is, never-the-less, a fascinating collection that shows Kylie rising above the ghetto of ’80s dance-pop idols. Whereas artists such as David Bowie and Madonna are known for shifting their musical personality to reflect their changing personalities or changing musical landscapes, Kylie never even evolved a musical personality. She is something of a cipher, a Zelig figure who services her musical surroundings rather than having the music support her persona. This is what makes the first disc of The Ultimate Kylie surprisingly great. They are something of a punchline now, heck they were even at the time, but Stock, Aitken, & Waterman could write a decent song every now again to go along with their massive hooks, and, from the sound of it, they gave Kylie some of their best material knowing that she would devote all of her energy towards the songs themselves. There are pure pop moments, such as “I Should Be So Lucky” and the gorgeous “Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi”, almost soulful rave-ups such as “Better the Devil You Know”, and even a little funk on tracks like “Shocked”. I suppose many would scoff at the decidedly dated material, but the first disc is a collection of just about everything that was good about ’80s dance-pop with only hints about what makes that genre unbearable today. Even “The Loco-Motion” is not as bad as people imagine.

Plus, the first disc hints at the “Kylie unleashed” that dominates the second disc. Opening with a new track, the retro-futuristic “I Believe in You”, co-written with Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters (she is a gay icon, don’t you know), the second disc explores the nuances of modern dance music. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “Love at First Sight” are two of the best songs of the last five years, they both provide a perfect synthesis of Kylie’s pop princess appeal and her admirable exploration of experimental electronic music. The bare-bones rhythms of “Can’t Get You out of My Head” may be dulled through overexposure, but it still manages to hypnotize as Kylie’s vocals evolve from fembot coldness to ethereal beauty. “Love at First Sight” might even be better, a poppier, and even stranger song. Kylie had the audacity to basically rewrite Daft Punk’s immortal “Digital Love” and somehow may have even made it even more perfect than it already was. These songs are super-dense sound collages full of tiny strange little details that reward headphone listening (check out the subliminal bongos on the chorus to “Love at First Sight”) while encouraging, perhaps demanding, dancing.

Although nothing else on the album reaches the heights of these two songs, maybe nothing could, the music remains complex and fascinating throughout. Perhaps fed-up with the relatively formulaic Stock, Aitken, & Waterman sound, her later material finds her exploring any genre or style that she found interesting, mixing styles with reckless abandon. The second disc pays no heed to chronological order, but this would not help the material which would be scattershot and baffling regardless. Kylie does not evolve, really, she just seems to skip from style to style following her own whims. One of the more recent songs, “Slow”, is a tempo-changing, brain-warping example of what happens when Intelligent Dance Music meets actual Dance Music. It of course is followed by “On a Night Like This”, a track that is meant to go right to number one on the Billboard Club Tracks list and while being completely ignored by the general public.

This is both Kylie’s blessing and curse: She can be anything, which sort of makes her nothing. Luckily, whenever the songs are right, Kylie hits the right notes to make standard dance-floor jams into entrancing pop songs. It doesn’t matter if she dueting with vapid pop mannequins (the collection-nadir “Kids” with Robbie Williams) or with one of the more morbid singer-songwriters alive (the out-of-place, but still chilling, “Where the Wild Roses Grow” with Nick Cave), Kylie will stand out. In doesn’t matter if Kylie is trying to be Bjork (“Confide in Me”), or a singer-songwriter with trip-hop beats (“Put Yourself in My Place”), Kylie will come off as believable. Nearly all of the tracks work, which results in a surprisingly varied collection of great dance music.

It hardly matters that Kylie Minogue is not a great performer or that her music is close to faceless. What matters is that she has had enough great dance songs over her long career to make all but Madonna envious. Ultimate Kylie, which seems condensed even at its double-disc length, is one of the best collections of dance music available, even while including her ’80s pop hits. It is enough to get her MP3s permanently out of my “guilty pleasures” bin.

mp3 : Kylie Minogue – Hand On Your Heart
mp3 : Kylie Minogue – Better The Devil You Know
mp3 : Kylie Minogue – Love At First Sight
mp3 : Kylie Minogue – Confide In Me

JC adds :  Embrace the frivolous.  Ultimate Kylie is top stuff (mostly!).  Merry Xmas Everybody.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (3/22)

Album : OK Computer by Radiohead
Review : Q, July 1997
Author : David Cavanagh

With their 1.5 million-selling 1995 album The Bends, Radiohead executed something of a perfect Yin Yang: a great white hope and a big black cloud. Thematically, a cold look at a worn-down, scrofulous interior – Thom Yorke‘s lyric sheet did not so much scan as a fester – it was one of the great “tension” records of recent years. It was streets ahead of the fundamental volleys of angst to be found elsewhere in guitar rock that year and, indeed, on Radiohead’s own perfunctory 1993 debut album, Pablo Honey.

A new song, a gripping plea for rescue entitled Lucky – released in September, 1995 on the War Child compilation album Help – gave a tantalising indication of what their third album might contain. But now it transpires that Radiohead are even better than anybody imagined. The Bends was merely stage two in a long process of preparation for the overwhelming music of OK Computer.

Radiohead are known as a dynamic and neurotic three-guitar band, but the majority of OK Computer’s 12 songs (one of which is Lucky) takes place in a queer old landscape: unfamiliar and ominous, but also beautiful and unspoiled. They produced this album themselves (in their Oxfordshire studio), constructing an eerie sound-world that is both purpose-built – a five-piece rock band has rarely been better recorded – and oddly evocative of a 1984 lyric by the American group Let’s Active that talked of “moonstruck eyes and grey scales”. It’s not always easy to determine which instrument makes which noise. The melodies are unorthodox and tangential: there are no Justs, Creeps or Nice Dreams. It’s a huge, mysterious album for the head and soul.

To hear one of these songs alone is to catch one’s breath: it’s an unknown Radiohead. To hear the whole album is to have one’s milieu well and truly up-ended and one’s imagination repeatedly caught off guard by Radiohead’s expanded ammo-haul of treated guitars, Mellotrons (played by the increasingly dazzling Jonny Greenwood), electric pianos (ditto) and unforseen space effects. A lot of prog rock fans will get off on the album’s more planetarium-compatible noises (to say nothing of Greenwood’s King Crimson-style guitar chords on the opening track, Airbag). That said, OK Computer is not a goblin zone. In his often extraordinary lyrics, Yorke glares as cynically and as disgustedly at life as he did on The Bends. But look at how he’s writing now: “Regular exercise at the gym three days a week…Getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries…Fitter, healthier and more productive/A pig in a cage on antibiotics” (Fitter, Happier). Yorke is on top form.

“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way, “Pink Floyd told us in 1973. Twenty-four years later, Yorke out-writes Roger Waters with heavy sarcasm (and to a better tune, incidentally): “I’ll take a quite life, a handshake of carbon monoxide and no alarms and no surprises, please” (No Surprises). Whereas Dark Side Of The Moon was about madness, meadows and muddling along, OK Computer – along with The Smashing PumpkinsMellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness the present-day rock-fans closest equivalent to a ’70s behemoth LP – evokes the sensation of the frequent flyer who has suddenly noticed he’s travelling faster than his aircraft. “Sometimes I get overcharged,” reflects OK Computer’s The Tourist. “that’s when you see sparks/Theu ask me where I’m going at a thousand feet per second/Hey man, slow down, slow down…”

As for the actual Earth, lyric after anguished lyric declares it an unfit place to live on, and condemns Yorke himself as not fit to walk it – so where does that leave him? The answer ultimately arrives on Subterranean Homesick Alien. Yorke, driving along a country lane at night, longs to be carried off by a spaceship. Nice planet. You can have it. Small wonder much of OK Computer sounds not-quite-of-this-world.

Indeed, the first three tracks (of a five-song, continuous, 25-minute suite that’s as brilliant as any music of the last decade) all mention aliens or interstellar activity in some capacity. “I’m back to save the universe,” Yorke sings on Airbag, over a deeply sinister soundtrack of Mellotron, cross-purpose guitars (J.Greenwood, Yorke and Ed O’Brien), reggae-style bass (Colin Greenwood) and hissing, spitting drums (Phil Selway).

If Airbag is merely fascinating, Paranoid Android is simply the song of the year. The first single, it’s six-and-a-half minutes long and it comes in three sections. One of these even has it’s own sub-section. There’s terrific, jazzy 7/8 part with electric piano and deep-grooving bass; there’s a hefty dose of blistering rock (with two guitar solos); and there’s a truly awesome vocal harmony sequence reminiscent of a load of monks chanting a particularly intense extract from David Bowie‘s The Man Who Sold The World.

Although only one song on OK Computer is what you’ll call fast – Electroneering, coincidentally the worst track – it’s got to be said that Subterranean Homesick Alien, Exit Music (For A Film) and Let Down are unusually slow and thoughtful. Subterranean Homesick Alien has wonderful, tingling, golden guitars and Riders On The Storm-style electric piano. Let Down begins like a delicately chiming appendix to The Joshua Tree, but the crazy synthesizers start to fly in from all directions, like a laser show. And as Let Down’s guitar arpeggios drip-drip-drip into the brain, Yorke – one of the very few singers whose voice can appear to convey genuine grief (as opposed to pain) and despair (as opposed to frustration) – delivers a remarkable vocal: falsetto, glorious harmonies, total and utter harmonies. His voice has the terrible shiver of a toddler who can’t for the life of him stop crying.

Just before Let Down comes a gem of a song called Exit Music (For A Film). It concerns two young lovers leaving home and going on the run. Being a Yorke composition, it’s not exactly Moonlighting by Leo Sayer. Jonny Greenwood’s Mellotron produces an unearthly choir of basses and sopranos as one of the runaways implores the other, “Breathe, keep breathing, I can’t do this alone.” Then, during a murderous surge of drums and fuzz bass, the picture goes fuzzy. The fog clears just in time to hear Yorke moan the last, startling line: “We hope that you choke.”

The superb Karma Police, written about a party full of scary people, is what might resulted musically had The Bogus Man-period Roxy Music ever tried to play Sexy Sadie by The Beatles. Even weirder is Fitter, Happier. An aural nightmare with no precedent in Radiohead’s work, it’s a poem of doom, centered in the workplace recited by a pre-programmed Apple Mac that sounds like Stephen Hawking‘s electronic voice. The breakneck (and somehow unsatisfying) Electroneering kicks up a royal fuss, before collapsing into the uneasy trip-hop of Climbing Up The Walls. It now seems as though OK Computer’s second half will comprise nothing but menace and cacophony.

Suddenly, however, there’s a respite from this two-song burst of chaos. In fact, the final three-song sequence has more control, more room to breathe (and arguably more beauty) than any other part of the record. Each of these three songs is the match of Street Spirit (Fade Out) on The Bends. No Surprises is Radiohead’s prettiest moment to date, using dulcimer and Christmassy synth textures to decorate Ed O’Brien’s exquisite guitar refrain. A lesser band would have grafted Yorke’s withering lyric onto a ready-made anthem of barely adequate string-bending pique.

The Tourist, which follows the still-spooky-and-marvellous Lucky to conclude the album, is an unexpectedly bluesy waltz. It’s not easy to play a waltz with anxiety, let alone the panic felt by Yorke’s hyperventilating traveller, but they do. As it reaches its final bars, the three guitars fall out, leaving just Phil Selway’s brushed cymbals, a couple of plucks of Colin Greenwood’s bass and – finally – the “ding” of a tiny bell.

And that is that. A landmark on every latitude. Not the least achievement of OK Computer is that a major weirdo-psychological English guitar band can induce gasps of admiration, stunned silence and more than a few lumps in the throat. It’s and emotionally draining, epic experience. Now Radiohead can definitely be ranked high among the world’s greatest bands.

mp3 : Radiohead – Airbag
mp3 : Radiohead – Subterranean Homesick Alien
mp3 : Radiohead – Karma Police
mp3 : Radiohead – The Tourist

JC adds :  The review recognises and anticipates the many plaudits that would come the way of OK Computer; but I can’t but help getting annoyed at the way so many other bands have been shoehorned into the review, almost as if there’s a hope that, should these opinions be out of sync (which clearly they weren’t), at least offering a comparison with some other acts will ensure the message gets across that this is a serious and not frivolous piece of art.

PS : Tomorrow, being Christmas Day, I’ll have a review of something a bit less serious and way more frivolous.

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (2/22)

Album : Let Love In by Mick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Review : Rolling Stone, 16 June 1994
Author : Rob O’Connor

Nick Cave used to be strictly postmodern, stringing together word associations in spasmodic whelps for his band the Birthday Party. Then he used to be sort of postmodern, weaving together folk tales based on American blues myths and a quick read of Faulkner’s twisted South. Not bad for a kid from Australia.

Then Cave cut The Good Son (1990), an album that curtailed his self-consciousness by stripping his sound down to bare essentials. It forced him to reassess his affectations and sing straight from the heart. In the process, he lost his signature sound – the wayward rhythms and screeching dissonance that created the dramatic soundstage needed to weave his longer tales. Henry’s Dream (1992) attempted to stretch out; however, the effort was reined in by David Briggs‘ measured production.

This time, Cave pulled out the stops. The Bad Seeds are back, mixing haunted house organ, creaky-floorboard guitar and voodoo drumming for maximum effect. In turn, Cave is both singing with maturity and ranting and raving like the lunatic he often becomes in performance.

By combining the stately arrangements of The Good Son with his early work’s literary richness, Let Love In, Cave’s eighth studio album with the Bad Seeds (the second with this incarnation), works the balance between prudence (a sympathetic reading of “Nobody’s Baby Now”) and wild-man fervor (“Jangling Jack”).

Cave’s ecstatic love epistles are often derailed by the hellhound on his trail. “He’s coming through your door,” Cave sings during the album’s centerpiece, “Loverman,” “with his straining sex in his jumping paw/There’s a devil crawling along your floor.” He explains what each letter stands for (“L is for love, baby”), adding relish as the insights get sicker (“R is for rape me/M is for murder me”).

Cave’s still not shying away from hyperbolic moments; he loves the drama music can produce. With Let Love In, Cave has regained the frenzy of his early work and fused it with his more recently found focus. The result is pain and pleasure transformed into rhythm, sex and death.

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Nobody’s Baby Now
mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Jangling Jack
mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Loverman

JC adds : The astonishing thing is this review completely bypasses Red Right Hand, without question, the most enduring and popular track from the album.

This was the album which began the gradual move towards the mainstream – not that I think that’s been a bad thing – but the downside is that Nick Cave has very much nowadays become the rock god for the chattering classes, many of whom have only discovered him since the news coverage of the personal tragedies and the fact that his music has been used to incredible effect in the hit TV show Peaky Blinders.

I say downside as I never imagined that he would be able to undertake tours of 10,000+ capacity venues, selling them out in a matter of minutes, and charging the best part of £100 a ticket for the best seats in the house…so I doubt he sees it that way.  It’s not, however, for me….I’ll stick to my memories of shows from this era and the subsequent 20-odd years.

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (1/22)

I hate the idea of the blog completely closing down, but at the same time I recognise that the number of visitors drops off substantially at the end of December and beginning of January, so it’s something of a waste of time to churn out original stuff. Last year, I dug deep into the archives for the daily posting, but I want to do something different this time round. It’s kind of been inspired by what proved to be a short-lived series earlier this year when I posted a review of album from 1999 and then offered up my own thoughts on it from a current day perspective. But what I’m going to do is post an original review from back in the day of some albums that I’ve always had a lot of time for, playing them to death when they were first released and returning to them occasionally nowadays

Here’s the first of them:-

Album : All Mod Cons by The Jam
Review : NME, 28 October 1978
Author : Charles Shaar Murray

Third albums generally mean that it’s shut-up-or-get-cut-up time: when an act’s original momentum has drained away and they’ve got to cover the distance from a standing start, when you’ve got to cross “naive charm” off your list of assets.

For The Jam, it seemed as if the Third Album Syndrome hit with their second album. This Is The Modern World was dull and confused, lacking both the raging, one-dimensional attack of their first album and any kind of newly-won maturity. A couple of vaguely duff singles followed and, in the wake of a general disillusionment with the Brave New Wave World, it seemed as if Paul Weller and his team were about to be swept under the carpet.

Well, it just goes to show you never can tell. All Mod Cons is the third Jam album to be released (it’s actually the fourth Jam album to be recorded; the actual third Jam album was judged, found wanting and scrapped) and it’s not only several light years ahead of anything they’ve done before but also the album that’s going to catapult The Jam right into the front rank of international rock and roll; one of the handful of truly essential rock albums of the last few years.

The title is more than Grade B punning or a clever-clever linkup with the nostalgibuzz packaging (like the target design on the label, the Swinging London trinketry, the Lambretta diagram or the Immediate-style lettering); it’s a direct reference to both the broadening of musical idiom and Weller’s reaffirmation of a specific Mod consciousness.

Remember the Mod ideal: it was a lower-middle and working-class consciousness that stressed independence, fun and fashion without loss of integrity or descent into elitism or consumerism; unselfconscious solidarity and a dollop of non-sectarian concern for others. Weller has transcended his original naivety without becoming cynical about anything other than the music business.

Mod became hippies and we know that didn’t work; the more exploratory end of Mod rock became psychedelia. Just as Weller’s Mod ideal has abandoned the modern equivalent of beach-fighting and competitive posing, his Mod musical values have moved from ’65 to ’66: the intoxicating period between pilled-up guitar-strangling and Sergeant Pepper. Reference points: Rubber Soul and A Quick One rather than Small Faces and My Generation.

Still, though Weller’s blends of acoustic and electric 6 and 12-string guitars, sound effects, overdubs and more careful structuring and arranging of songs (not to mention a quantum leap in standard of composition) may cause frissons of delight over at the likes of Bomp, Trouser Press and other covens of aging Yankee Anglophiles, All Mod Cons is an album based firmly in 1978 and looking forward.

This is the modern world: ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ is a fair indication of what Weller’s up to on this album, as was ‘A-Bomb In Wardour Street’ (I can’t help thinking that he’s given more hard clear-eyed consideration to the implications of the Sham Army than Jimmy Pursey has), but they don’t remotely tell the whole story. For one thing, Weller has the almost unique ability to write love songs that convince the listener that the singer is really in love. Whether he’s describing an affair that’s going well or badly, he writes with a penetrating, committed insight that rings perfectly, utterly true.

Weller writes lovingly and (choke on it) sensitively without ever descending to the patented sentimentality that is the stock-in-trade of the emotionally bankrupt. That sentimentality is but the reverse side of the macho coin, and both sides spell lovelessness. The inclusion of ‘English Rose’ (a one-man pick’n’croon acoustic number backed only by a tape of the sea) is both a musical and emotional finger in the eye for everyone who still clings to the old punk tough-guy stereotype and is prepared to call The Jam out for not doing likewise.

Weller is – like Bruce Springsteen – tough enough not to feel he needs to prove it any more, strong enough to break down his own defences, secure enough to make himself vulnerable. The consciousness of All Mod Cons is the most admirable in all of British rock and roll, and one that most of his one-time peers could do well to study.

Through the album, then: the brief, brusque title track and its immediate successor (‘To Be Someone’) examine the rock business first in a tart V-sign to some entrepreneurial type who wishes to squeeze the singer dry and then throw him away, and second in a cuttingly ironic track about a superstar who lost touch with the kids and blew his career. Weller is, by implication, assuring his listeners that no way is that going to happen to him: but the song is so well thought out and so convincing that it chokes back the instinctive “Oh yeah?” that a less honest song in the same vein would elicit from a less honest band.

From there we’re into ‘Mr Clean’, an attack on the complacent middle-aged “professional classes.” The extreme violence of its language (the nearest this album comes to an orthodox punk stance, in fact) is matched with music that combines delicacy and aggression with an astonishing command of dynamics. This is as good a place as any to point out that bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler are more than equal to the new demands that Weller is making on them: the vitality, empathy and resourcefulness that they display throughout the album makes All Mod Cons a collective triumph for The Jam as well as a personal triumph for Weller.

‘David Watts’ follows (written by Ray Davies, sung by Foxton and a re-recorded improvement on the 45) with ‘English Rose’ in hot pursuit. The side ends with ‘In The Crowd’, which places Weller dazed and confused in the supermarket. It bears a superficial thematic resemblance to ‘The Combine’ (from the previous album) in that it places its protagonist in a crowd and examines his reactions to the situation, but its musical and lyrical sophistication smashes ‘The Combine’ straight back to the stone age. It ends with a lengthy, hallucinatory backward guitar solo which sounds as fresh and new as anything George Harrison or Pete Townshend did a dozen years ago, and a reference back to ‘Away From The Numbers’.

‘Billy Hunt’, whom we meet at the beginning of the second side, is not a visible envy-focus like Davies’ ‘David Watts’, but the protagonist’s faintly ludicrous all-powerful fantasy self: what he projects in the day dreams that see him through his crappy job. The deliberate naivety of this fantasy is caught and projected by Weller with a skill that is nothing short of marvellous.

A brace of love songs follow: ‘It’s Too Bad’ is a song of regret for a couple’s mutual inability to save a relationship which they both know is infinitely worth saving. Musically, it’s deliriously, wonderfully ’66 Beat Groupish in a way that represents exactly what all those tinpot powerpop bands were aiming for but couldn’t manage. Lyrically, even if this sort of song was Weller’s only lick, he’d still be giving Pete Shelley and all his New Romance fandangos a real run for his money.

‘Fly’ is an exquisite electric/acoustic construction, a real lovers’ song, but from there on in the mood changes for the “Doctor Marten’s Apocalypse” of ‘A-Bomb In Wardour Street’ and ‘Tube Station’. In both these songs, Weller depicts himself as the victim who doesn’t know why he’s getting trashed at the hands of people who don’t know why they feel they have to hand out the aggro.

We’ve heard a lot of stupid, destructive songs about the alleged joys of violence lately and they all stink: if these songs are listened to in the spirit in which they were written then maybe we’ll see a few less pictures of kids getting carried off the terraces with darts in their skulls. And if these songs mean that one less meaningless street fight gets started then we’ll all owe Paul Weller a favour.

The Jam brought us The Sound Of ’65 in 1976, and now in 1978 they bring us the sound of ’66. Again, they’ve done it such a way that even though you can still hear The Who here and there and a few distinct Beatleisms in those ornate decending 12-string chord sequences, it all sounds fresher and newer than anything else this year. All Mod Cons is the album that’ll make Bob Harris‘ ears bleed the next time he asks what has Britain produced lately; more important, it’ll be the album that makes The Jam real contenders for the crown.

Look out, all you rock and rollers: as of now The Jam are the ones you have to beat.

mp3 : The Jam – All Mod Cons
mp3 : The Jam – In The Crowd
mp3 : The Jam – Fly
mp3 : The Jam – Down In The Tube Station at Midnight

JC adds : A review that captures exactly how I felt about this record back in 1978/79 and how I feel about now. I think that if pushed to name my all-time favourite album, it would be this one.

21 more old reviews to follow!

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #194 : THE LOW MIFFS

The Low Miffs burst suddenly onto the scene in 2007/08, made a bit of splash with two singles, teamed up with the legendary Malcolm Ross for a fantastic album and then called it a day.

The band comprised Leo Condie (vocals,guitar), Thomas Brogan (guitar, keyboards), Rory Clark (drums), Mike Fowler (bass) and Peter Webster (guitar). I’m thinking most of them will still be involved in music in some
shape or other – I caught Leo Condie’s most recent band White a couple of years ago, again finding myself amazed at his voice which at times is so reminiscent of Billy McKenzie (although not neccesarily on today’s two songs)

Here’s the two sides of their second single, released on the Leeds-based Art/Goes/Pop back in 2008:-

mp3 : The Low Miffs – Earl Grey
mp3 : The Low Miffs – This Is The New

This is one where the b-side feels so much better than the a-side……

The Low Miffs were talked about in the highest of terms when they first appeared, being championed by Franz Ferdinand and given a support slot by The Horrors. The album with Malcolm Ross will be looked at next time around in this series.

JC

W.O.R.K.

The only previous occasion that Bow Wow Wow have appeared on this blog was in April 2015 when I had this look back at their biggest hit single, Go Wild In The Country. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of positive feedback and this posting has been inspired by the comment left behind at that time by postpunkmonk:-

I am comfortable with all phases of Bow Wow Wow’s career. First of all, the former Ants were just outstanding! The rhythm section was powerful and accomplished and Matthew Ashman’s guitar tone was fluid and rich. When the band were fronts for McLaren’s philosophical japes they were visceral yet fascinating. “W.O.R.K.,” especially in its 12″ form was a powerhouse of a groove, and remains my favorite BWW tune…..

W.O.R.K. was the band’s second single, released in March 1981, when it reached #62, a bit of a disappointment given that the debut C-30, C-60, C-90, Go had reached the Top 40 and Malcolm McLaren was in full hype mode. I’ve dug out the 12″ tracks:-

mp3 : Bow Wow Wow – W.O.R.K. (No Nah! No! No! No! My Daddy Don’t)

It is incredibly energetic, driven along by frantic drumming and chanting, not forgetting the slaps applied to the bass guitar.

Fun fact….the producer on this occasion was Alan Tarney who the previous year had written and produced the ultra-smooth We Don’t Talk Anymore, a #1 hit for Cliff Richard. In later years, he would be on production duties as a-ha enjoyed a period of chart dominance in the mid 80s.

The b-side was a lingual re-working of the debut single:-

mp3 : Bow Wow Wow – C-30, C-60, C-90 Anda!

Consider yourselves educated!!!

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #233 – STEVIE WONDER

The period 3 January 1970 – 8 October 1977 covers 405 weeks.

Stevie Wonder spent 133 of those weeks with music in the Top 50 of the UK singles charts. 16 of his singles, stretching from Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday which was in the middle of a long run that had begun October 1969, through to Another Star, the fourth 45 to be lifted from Songs In The Key of Life, found huge favour with the record buying public, albeit he never enjoyed a #1 hit in this golden age, and indeed just six of them reached the Top Ten.

The fact that he was rarely off the airwaves during my most formative years in terms of listening to music on the radio meant that I was exposed to his songs way more than most other long-standing acts of that decade. I really don’t want readers to think that this was something I regretted then or now as there’s a high number of those singles in which I reckon I can sing many of the words unprompted and would be very confident of getting them all in the right order and to a fair approximation of tone if standing in front of a karaoke machine.

But it was really difficult in the early to mid-80s to admit of any love or affection for Stevie Wonder on account of the sheer awfulness of two songs that spent ages at #1 – Ebony and Ivory, in which he and Paul McCartney called for greater racial harmony over a non-tune and lyric that could have been penned by a nine-year old – and I Just Called To Say I Love You, a solo song lifted from the soundtrack to the smash hit film, The Woman In Red, and one which holds the remarkable distinction of being the biggest selling single ever issued in the UK by Tamla Motown (a stat which says a great deal about the general poor taste of the UK public).

I didn’t, until the time when he was having the #1 singles, realise that Stevie Wonder’s career went all the way back to the early 60s. I knew of songs such as Uptight (Everything’s Alright) from various radio shows that played oldies, but had wrongly assumed it was from the late 60s when in fact it was a hit back in 1965. We are actually edging close to the 60th anniversary of him signing his first recording contract, which he did as a child prodigy in 1961 at the age of 11. It’s fair to say that you could come up with a number of ICAs that cover his entire career, but this one focusses solely on the 70s…..and mostly on the hit singles.

Side A

1. Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (peaked at #2, November 1969, exited the Top 50 on 13 February 1970)

This is a bit of a misnomer in that the song dates from 1967 but was released by Tamla in 1969 in lieu of the fact that Stevie Wonder was experiencing some severe problems with his vocal range when he reached the end of his teenage years, and rather than rush him back, the label went digging into the archives for previously recorded but unreleased material. It was his biggest hit in the UK, and would remain so until this……

2. Sir Duke (#2, May 1977)

Fun fact. The week that this peaked in the UK charts was the same week that The Jam debuted in the Top 50 with In The City – two completely contrasting but joyously upbeat pieces of music that have very much stood the test of time.

3. You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (#30, November 1974)

A wee bit of a cheat here on my part. This is one of the hits that I can’t recall from the actual time, probably on account of it only being in the charts for a short period of time; there’s also the fact that it was a highly political song, being an attack on the disgraced Richard Nixon which likely meant the BBC didn’t air it too often. Features a fabulous backing vocal from the Jackson 5.

4. He’s Misstra Know It All (#10, May 1974)

It was years before I found out that the title of this one wasn’t Mister Know It All. Again, I’d be pushing it to say that this was one that I fully remember from the time of its release on the basis that slower songs didn’t excite me all that much (which is probably the real reason that I feel head-over-heels for new wave), but it’s one of those songs that just oozes class and style from its opening second right through to its conclusion. It’s also incredible to realise that, with the exception of the bass guitar, every single note on this songs comes from the hands of Stevie Wonder….he was very much a genius.

5. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours (#15, August 1970)

I reckon this is the first Stevie Wonder song that I can fully associate with. This joyous piece of music, complete with its ridiculously catchy chorus, would have sounded particularly good to the ears of my seven-year old self. I’ve had a look at the chart from the week it reached its peak, and there’s a few other songs that I can recall from the era, and in particular In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry, Lola by The Kinks and All Right Now by Free, although there’s every chance the latter two are more to do with them being played by older cousins whenever we went to visit them.

Side B

1. Superstition (#11, February 1973)

If I had bought this back in 1973, it would have certainly featured in my 45 45s at 45 rundown from 2008. I love this record in a way that it is difficult to express in words. Its opening notes offer one of the most immediately identifiable pieces of music in all history, one that defies any listener to stay rooted to their seat and not enjoy a boogie.

2. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life (#7, June 1973)

The follow-up to Superstition and early evidence of the eventual shift into a more mellow, smooth sound that would reach its peak just over a decade or so later. As I mentioned previously in this ICA, the younger me wasn’t a fan of slow songs and ballads, so the inclusion of this track in the ICA is to acknowledge that my tastes matured a bit as I got older. I’m not saying that it’s one of my all-time Top 10 favourite Stevie Wonder tunes, but it does fit in well at this point of the imaginary album, setting the scene nicely to close things off.

The first two lines of the song are sung, not by Wonder, but by Jim Gilstrap while Lani Groves sings the next two lines. It’s also the album version of the song as it doesn’t have the annoying horns to distract you.

3. Living For The City (#15, February 1974)

This is very much a relative of this rap song that featured a short while back in the ‘Some Songs Make Great Short Stories’ series. It’s still so relevant today, more than 40 years on.

4. I Wish (#5, January 1977)

Another song that could have featured in the great short stories series, being one in which the singer/songwriter put the story of his childhood days to a funky, upbeat tune. If you want an example of how much the record industry has changed, imagine the reaction to an exec who made the suggestion nowadays to have this single released exactly one week before Christmas. There would be little chance, no matter the fact that it’s such an outstanding number, of it getting any airplay against the drivel that we are subjected to year after year after year after year.

5. Don’t You Worry ‘bout A Thing (non-single in the UK, #16 on the US Billboards chart, March 1974)

No apologies for finishing things off a third cut from Innervisions, an album that many critics and fans feel to be the pinnacle of Stevie Wonder’s career. It just seems the right way to sign this one off.

JC

Bonus track.

Here in the UK, Top of the Pops was the name of a series of records on the Hallmark label, and they were made up of anonymous cover versions of current hit singles, intended to replicate the sound of the original hits as closely as possible.

The albums were budget priced and were a mainstay of the collections of many working class families for whom purchasing all the singles was prohibitive. There were more than 100 of the albums recorded between 1968 and 1985, at which point in time, the major labels realised there was something of a captive market and began to collaborate to issue compilation albums featuring the original artists and songs.

Volume 12 was released in 1970 and had this version of a Stevie Wonder hit

mp3 : Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours

As usual, there were no credits given to the performer – they were always destined to be anonymous. It was later revealed that this had been the work of a jobbing singer called Reg Dwight, who went on to find huge fame and fortune under another name.

 

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 29)

Some songs make for the very saddest of short stories.

Mrs. Brown wakes up every morning
She takes the milk from her doorstep
Puts on a pair of faded carpet slippers
And walks a painful mile to the launderette

Her husband Jack is slowly dying
Asbestos poisoning had riddled his insides
He got his pension six years early
When they took away his job they took away his pride

Mrs. Wilson sets her clock for seven
To see the children off to school
She can’t afford to give them breakfast
Well not as a rule

Her husband Jack has run away
Gone with the barmaid from the Roses and Crown
Picks up her prescription every Friday
She’s heading for her second nervous breakdown

Jennifer Lee is only seventeen
She had a baby when she was still at school
Her parents have disowned her
And the social service barely calls

The father was a boy she met at a party
Her sister Debbie’s twenty-first
She can’t remember his face or his name very well
Anyway he probably doesn’t remember her

And every day’s the same
On paradise estate
Because paradise came one day too late

We all live in little boxes
Boxes made of bricks
Boxes for unmarried mothers
Elderly and sick
Graffiti on the walls
Tells it all
“Gary loves Julie”
National Front slogans
“Jesus is coming”
“Kilroy was here”

But paradise came one day too late
On paradise estate

It was the very melancholy b-side to A Sense of Belonging, an excellent single released on Rough Trade back in 1983

mp3 : The Television Personalities – Paradise Estate

JC

THE GERMAN LLOYD COLE & THE COMMOTIONS

I was browsing through some list or other about indie bands from the 80s who should be better known than they are or more popular than they were.  On the list was a group called The Jeremy Days, which was a new one on me.  Then I read the blurb:-

The Jeremy Days. The German Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. Presumably there was a need for one of those. Their self-titled 1988 debut album was actually produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, the men in the chair for the Commotions’ 1985 set ‘Easy Pieces’, and picked up coverage over here – if not any genuine sales.

Wiki was my next friend….except the page was in German….but this is what the translation seemingly says:-

The Jeremy Days was a German pop band from Hamburg , which was founded in 1987 and disbanded in 1996. The band originally consisted of Dirk Darmstaedter (vocals, guitar), Christoph M. Kaiser (bass, vocals), Louis C. Oberlander (keyboard), Stefan Rager (drums) and Jörn-Christof Heilbut (guitar). In 1994, Rager left the band and was replaced on the drums by Rob Feigel.

In 1988 appeared on Polydor debut album The Jeremy Days , which was produced by the English producer team Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. The record sold about 150,000 times. The single Brand New Toy came up to number 11 on the German charts .

Sporadically there are reunions of the band for special occasions; so the complete original cast at the festival “Save the FC St.Pauli” played in August 2003 at the Millerntor Stadium in Hamburg. In March 2011, Dirk Darmstaedter, Jörn-Christof Heilbut and Christoph M. Kaiser performed in the Hamburg club Grünspan at the memorial event for the late former Palais Schaumburg singer and media designer Walter Welke (née Thielsch). In June 2018, the band announced for January 2019 a reunion concert in Hamburg with all founding members except Christoph M. Kaiser. This took place on 18 January 2019 in front of a sold-out house in the docks.

The FC St Pauli thing caught my eyes. It has never been the most succesful of football clubs but it is one for which I have a soft spot  as it has encouraged an alternative fan scene over the 30-40 years, leaning towards left-wing politics and social causes, often linked into the punk music scene in Hamburg.

I was guessing that The Jeremy Days weren’t punk, but the fact they had taken part in a fundraiser for FC St Pauli at a time when the club was at a low ebb, instantly made them worth checking out.

They actually shared a record label with Lloyd Cole & The Commotions and released four albums and ten singles on Polydor between 1988 and 1994 before moving to Motor Music (which was a German subsidiary of Polydor) for whom there was one album and four singles in 1995 and one futher single in 2001 (which I’m assuming coincided with the FC St Pauli gig).

Let’s start with the song that gets a mention in the wiki page

mp3 : The Jeremy Days – Brand New Toy

Musically, it’s not immediately similar to LC & the Comms…..but good god, the voice is spooky!

That was actually their third single, this was the debut:-

mp3 : The Jeremy Days – Are You Inventive?

It sounds more akin to Go West than it does to jingly-jangly pop, and I can understand now why it all passed me by.

Jumping forward to 1990 and a track from their second album:-

mp3 : The Jeremy Days – Sylvia Suddenly

Again, there’s nothing to get me too excited, but I can hear why it would find favour with pop fans.

In 1992, they went to New York and recorded an album with Fred Maher who had worked with Lloyd Cole at the start of the solo career. Here’s a single from that era:-

mp3 : The Jeremy Days – Loved

And finally, here’s the single from 2001:-

mp3 : The Jeremy Days – It Is The Time

In doing a bit of research for this piece, I learned that 2001 was also the year that a compilation album was released of different mixes of old songs and unreleased material. This wasn’t actually a new song but a new mix of one that date from 1992.

So there you go…..The Jeremy Days from Hamburg. Most certainly NOT the German Lloyd Cole & The Commotions……just another example of shit and lazy journalism…no surprise it was from the modern era NME in a piece that was headed up “50 Unfashionable But Brilliant 80s Bands That Time Cruelly Forgot”

JC